Thyroid Cancer and Thyroid Nodules

Author: Alexander Salerno, MD
December 23, 2019

Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases that has seen a sharp rise in the number of incidents over the years. With rising number of incidences, awareness about various types of cancers and information regarding the prevention of the same has also seen a rise. So, most individuals are aware of commonly occurring cancers, but little is known about thyroid cancer.

Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid is the organ found in the lower front part of the neck. It secretes hormones which direct and channelize various functions in the body, such as production of heat, utilization of energy, and consumption of oxygen.

When cells in the thyroid change or mutate and start to multiply, it finally causes a tumor and this tumor is known as thyroid cancer.

Four types of thyroid cancers have been identified, namely, papillary thyroid cancer, medullary cancer, follicular thyroid cancer, and anaplastic thyroid cancer.

The exact cause of thyroid cancer is still not clear, but it could be due to inherited genetic syndrome (where an abnormal inherited gene can cause the cancer) or because of exposure to radiation in the head and neck area as a child. It can also be caused due to iodine deficiency.

Thyroid cancer is difficult to detect in the early stages because there are hardly any signs or symptoms in the beginning. As the cancer escalates, symptoms include presence of a lump in the neck, pain in the throat and neck, cough, difficulty in swallowing, and changes in vocals including hoarseness.

It has been seen that women are more likely to develop thyroid cancer as compared to men, especially follicular thyroid, which is found to be more likely in white women when compared to black women.

Treatment is easily available for thyroid cancer, once it is detected. Even if the disease has advanced to a huge stage, surgery or treatment can completely cure the patient.

Thyroid Nodules
Thyroid nodules are small lumps, which are either solid or filled with fluid, present in the thyroid gland. Usually, these nodules are harmless and do not even cause symptoms, but a small percentage of these nodules result in thyroid cancer.

Usually, the nodules are small and are barely even noticeable unless checked by a doctor. But when they are big they can easily be felt, and seen as a swelling at the base of the neck; they might even cause shortness of breath and difficulty in swallowing as the nodules press on the windpipe and esophagus respectively. The nodules can even lead to extra production of the thyroxine hormone which can further lead to weight loss, nervousness, tremors, irregular heartbeat, and perspiration.

Causes of thyroid nodules can either be due to iodine deficiency or to losing a cyst, inflammation of the gland, goiter, overgrowth of normal thyroid tissues, and even thyroid cancer.

Treatment options for the nodules depend on the type of the nodules, where benign ones are treated with hormone doston therapy, surgery, or just left as is. Hyperthyroidism-causing nodules are treated with iodine therapy, anti-thyroid medication, or surgery; cancerous nodules are treated with surgery or alcohol ablation.

However, timely detection and diagnosis by a doctor would help and regular checkups would prevent any advancements or computations.

Alexander G. Salerno

About Alexander Salerno, MD

Salerno Medical Associates medical practice & founder of Urban Healthcare Initiative Program (UHIP) and Community Healthcare Outreach Program (CHOP)